Is Logic Compatible with Recovery?

Victor P. Gilbert, MSW, LISACBy Victor P. Gilbert, MSW, LISAC
Primary Therapist, Sierra Tucson

The views expressed herein are derived from observations of persons in my groups during the course of my career as a therapist. When possible, I have attempted to reconcile these observations with known long-term outcomes.

Early on in my profession, there was an individual in my group who presented as being less than highly motivated. That person completed (superficially in my opinion at that time) the treatment plan and discharged. For the subsequent five or six years, a Christmas card arrived containing a detailed report of her successful recovery. Those Christmas messages presented both a joy and a challenge. The challenge being, how could my assessment of her motivation have been so inaccurate?

Several more years of observations of persons in my groups followed. Then the answer to the challenge became clear. The assessment I had made had been based upon my need to see a motivation connected to logic. The important piece that had been overlooked was the value she had placed upon herself. Thus my question (and the title of this article): Is logic compatible with recovery?

A clarification of terms as used in this article would be appropriate at this point.

Logic: Typically defined as correct reasoning that is valid deduction or induction.

Recovery: Identifying and changing something in one’s life that is not working and/or is causing distress. Recovery will be considered as being of two phases: 1) early recovery and 2) continuing recovery.

Early recovery involves making a decision to change an identified, unwanted aspect of one’s life. It is in this phase that logic often gets in the way.

I like logic, but not when misapplied. It is not unusual to find persons coming into treatment wanting a logical answer to any number of “why” questions. Those persons are seeking a linear cause-and-effect relationship external to themselves. If one is able to establish this relationship, there is no need to change one’s thinking. Years ago it was not unusual to have a staff member say to a client, “It was your best thinking that got you here.” Or as Albert Einstein is reported to have said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

If not logic, then what? Early recovery, to be successful, requires one to make a commitment to self. I often refer to this as developing a recovery attitude. An “I-will-do-whatever-it-takes-because-I-am-worth-it” type of mentality. This commitment is particularly important given that recovery is often tiring and inconvenient.

Sustaining this commitment requires that one dispute the “logical” proofs that one is defective, not good enough, stupid, or bad. The list of self-deprecating beliefs people bring into treatment can be long and strongly held.

These self-critical beliefs have become embedded, so completely, into one’s internal dialogue as to be highly resistant to discovery and change. This resistance is supported by guilt, shame, fear, and emotional pain. Applying Einstein’s statement, the thinking to be changed is that which determines how one views self. A change which requires working through the emotional charge attached to facing character “defects.” The potential danger of attempting to use logic at this early stage of recovery is that often, logic has been invoked to support the “truth” of one’s so-called defects.

As stated earlier, I like logic. Where then, does logic fit into the recovery journey? Logic is critical to sustaining continuing recovery. The relationship is simply this: If I do not continue that which I have found to work for me, I will quickly return to my pre-treatment pain.

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